Two days after the Boat Race and there were more protests and signs of exhaustion on the banks of the Thames as Fulham fought back to sabotage Chelsea’s bid to go back into the top four.

Fulham 1 Chelsea 1: Fulham stick their oar in as Dempsey dents Blues' Champions League ambitions

Clint Dempsey struck eight minutes from time at Craven Cottage with a goal celebrated in Tottenham and Tyneside, too.

It was the American’s 22nd goal of his most prolific season and wiped out a disputed penalty scored by Frank Lampard in the closing seconds of the first half.

The spot-kick was seemingly awarded for a reckless challenge by Danny Murphy on Salomon Kalou, although television replays and touchline reports soon suggested otherwise.

It was, in fact, given for a slight touch on Kalou from behind by Stephen Kelly, which caused the Ivorian to fall a split second after Murphy’s challenge. Confusion reigned.

Fulham manager Martin Jol suggested the Chelsea striker might have tripped himself up. Regardless, Lampard made no mistake, slamming the spot-kick into his favourite corner of the net from 12 yards to give Chelsea the lead.

The home side deserved their point, not because the penalty was a bemusing affair but because they played with terrific adventure, especially in the last 30 minutes when they generated an unstoppable momentum.

Petr Cech made a superb save to turn a header from Aaron Hughes wide but, from the following corner, Dempsey escaped John Terry and finished with a header which clipped Gary Cahill on the back of the arm on its way over the line.

Chelsea clung on to their point but the two they dropped could prove costly in their bid to finish in the top four as they slipped to sixth yesterday, with a gruelling schedule ahead which includes two semi-finals.

Roberto Di Matteo has tried to rotate his squad in an effort to keep legs and minds fresh for the challenges ahead but last night his team started to look a little weary. There was another late goal conceded, which is becoming a bad habit.

‘We couldn’t quite get the second goal,’ said Chelsea’s interim manager. ‘Maybe we didn’t pose enough threat to kill the game off. We put a big effort in to win but the biggest disappointment is that we conceded an equaliser late on. It’s been a pattern this season, conceding late goals.

‘If you manage to get a second goal, it gives the opposition less hope. It’s always shaky at 1-0.’

Chelsea were without the injured Ashley Cole, and Di Matteo gave David Luiz the chance to rest an ankle problem but Terry was back despite two broken ribs.

When the visitors grabbed a 45th-minute lead, it seemed like another big call from the officials would help them to victory.

On Saturday, they benefited from two goals which proved to be offside as they squeezed past Wigan, and here they got the bizarre penalty, which Lampard converted for his 150th goal in the Barclays  Premier League.

Murphy was still debating the issue when the teams came out for the restart. The Fulham captain had snapped in on instinct with studs showing but seemed to make no contact with Kalou, who hit the turf.

Only afterwards, with the help of several super-slow-motion replays could it be unravelled, but all that mattered was that Clattenburg had given it and Chelsea had a lead they barely deserved.

The visitors had been allowed to dominate early possession by Fulham, but Jol’s side chose their moments well to spring forward, passing the ball quickly and  fluently.

Dempsey and Kerim Frei both tested Cech before Lampard’s goal. Lampard went close with a well-struck effort from 25 yards after the break, then appealed for another penalty when he was manhandled by Brede Hangeland as the pair contested a low cross by Fernando Torres.

He might have had a case but, this time, Clattenburg did not flinch and Fulham started to control the game as Chelsea flagged.

John Arne Riise swerved a shot across goal, Ryan Bertrand made a vital interception and Cech denied Hughes before Dempsey struck.

The draw eases Fulham on to the same points as Liverpool, who play tonight.

Murphy said: ‘We have tough games coming up away at Everton and Liverpool but we’ll keep going and working hard.

‘We’ve shown when we’ve had injuries that we have strength in depth. Kerim Frei has not played much but Ivanovic is one of the best right backs in the Premier League and he made him look average.’

Jol confirmed he will be without Bryan Ruiz for the rest of the season after scans revealed the Costa Rican broke his foot at Bolton on Saturday.